Parks Associates Blog

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Parental Controls in the Connected Home - A New Frontier for CE and Parents alike

It was not until the wrapping paper was off and the happy squeals over our bright, shiny, new, holiday gifted, Internet content (Netflicks, YouTube, etc.) to the TV, connected CE device had faded to shrill echoes that the question hit me, “Just what sort of content were we about to welcome onto the family room big screen?” A question asked too late? Hopefully not - for certainly, in an age where so many of our home CE products are moving towards greater interconnectivity, and so much of that connectivity is centered on increasing the accessibility of Internet provided content , there must be advanced, comprehensive and easily programmable parental control options, right? Right?

Well….yes and no…

Yes, many of the new connected CE products do come equipped with some parental control functionality, and yes, that functionality does provide a measure of protection against content you may not want your younger family members to accidentally (or purposefully) access; however, these controls have their limitations. Some are complicated and cumbersome, requiring super-geek like skills to set-up and operate, while others are so simplistic that your child may soon be showing you how to use them – and most are unable to fully separate the inappropriate content from the family friendly (albeit nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying) chin puppet videos on YouTube.

Exacerbating the problem are user generated content (UGC) sites that leave it to the contributor to tag the content as appropriate or inappropriate for younger viewers. In such cases, other than locking out the site itself, there is no guarantee that your little one may not land on content way outside their G, PG or PG-13 rated boundaries. Should you feel the urge to confirm this, give yourself five minutes armed with nothing more than a few innocent sounding search terms and see where you land. I did. It was very entertaining. It was also an excursion through some territory I would not want my child to tread while e-channel surfing on a Saturday morning.

This is not to say that you should disconnect all your CE devices or hide the remote until everyone in the house is old enough to vote. There are other options. Some consumer electronics and consumer technology companies have started down the road towards affordable, comprehensive parental control solutions for connected CE. For Netgear (in collaboration with OpenDNS) the solution being offered is the router-based, Live Parental Control system included currently with its Wireless-N 300 Router and available soon on additional wireless routers and DSL gateways. This type of control-at-the-hub approach may help to marshal the content through a centralized solution – but it cannot completely solve the problem if the content in question is improperly tagged by the contributor. However, since this is the problem that has long bedeviled more expensive parental control devices and subscription services, it may in the end prove out the low-tech, high common sense wisdom of teaching children to self-monitor and of simply being present and aware, exerting in-the-flesh parental control, whenever your child is connected through household CE devices to the outside world. Heck, you may even come to appreciate the genius behind chin puppetry.

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